“Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos” is the perfect book for a relatively short, high-magic, school style campaign, although given the right group you could take it into any length you wanted. Strixhaven mixes the Magic the Gathering card game with Dungeons and Dragons and makes for a unique setting with some adventures inside. It has been out a while now and has earned high ratings on Amazon, which I think is well deserved.
This book delivers a fun university setting with lots of opportunities to make characters that connect with each other because these are students living, studying and working together. Schools necessarily make connections between people from different backgrounds and have a built-in structure that people can rebel against one minute, support the next and retreat within to find safety.
Most Dungeons and Dragons campaigns are homebrew. Enworld did an interesting study in 2015 that put the number at 55% homebrew, 35% The Forgotten Realms (Faerun), 5% Greyhawk and 5% other.
Strixhaven is something that can be in that other category yet link to any homebrew, Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk setting. In the “Welcome to Strixhaven” section of the new tome, it states that “Strixhaven draws students from across the world and from other realms in the multiverse. The university’s students and faculty are united by a desire to learn and include humans, elves, dwarves, owlin (Strixhaven’s addition to Dungeons and Dragons ancestry that are a new race of owl-like humanoids), orcs, trolls, vampires, and studious fold of many other origins.”
You also don’t have to be a wizard. As the book says, it is an Academy of Mages but not just for mages. It welcomes all character classes that will be willing to use magic to enhance their learning. All you have to do is maintain your grades…while fighting monsters.
This school uses exams, with rules mechanics for studying, cheating, pulling all-nighters or using a studying group as a way to level up. This milestone method ensures that the characters, while having their own individual activities, are engaged in an adventure together.
These individual activities are extracurriculars like the Drama Guild, Dragon Chess Club or Mage Tower (sports). The characters can get jobs like working at the Bibliotex or the Bow’s End Tavern. There are even optional rules for relationships where the students get to befriend or become rivals with other students.
The first year is one of general study which brings players up to level four. Then, in the second year players get to pick their college, of which there are five:
Lorehold – College of Archaeomancy – Like the name, this college is about history and religion. It’s great for Bards, Wizards (especially of Divination) and some Clerics (Knowledge or Light Domain). The book points out that a Barbarian with Path of the Ancestral Guardian or a Paladin with an Oath of the Ancients would also fit.
Prismari – College of the Elemental Arts – It’s a school for artists of a concrete nature. Druids, Sorcerers, Wizards of Transmutation and Clerics of the Tempest can be welcome here.
Quandrix – College of Numeromancy – A college that includes studies in Physics, Math and Mechanics, so Artificers, Wizards, Sorcerers or tool minded Rogues would feel comfortable. But again, this college takes everyone.
Silverquill – College of Eloquence – This is a school for Bards again, but it can take Wizards (Illusion and Enchantment) or Warlocks. Clerics of Trickery are mentioned.
Witherbloom – College of Essence Studies – This college is a wonderfully weird mix of biology and decay. Having Druids, Rangers and Necromancers together? Neat idea! Rogues who like to make poisons and some Barbarians can make a home here.
These colleges can give you feats, skill proficiencies, spells and NPC connections. It also opens up areas to explore on campus. The physical book comes with a colorful map by Francesca Baerald, one of which is amazingly poster sized.
If you follow the Player’s Handbook Three Pillars of Gameplay: Exploration, Player Interaction and Combat, then each leveling up adventure hits all three.
The Lead Designer Amanda Hamon and the Assistant Lead Designer Jeremy Crawford didn’t stop here. They have carefully thought ahead and provide a path up to 10th level. There is a whole chapter devoted to interconnected and player interactive NPCs.
Hamon, who got her start with Paizo and was an editor at Kobold Press, corralled quite a lot of elements for this book and herds them expertly toward a coherent campaign. She was the lead on their amazing Southlands book, and it shows. The four adventures in the book match the four years of the college. The first year gets you to the first four levels, and the second year has the characters choose their college and get to sixth level. The third year gets you to eighth level and the last year sends you hurtling towards graduation with an epic ending that puts the characters at a much-needed level ten.
The book keeps all these elements organized with a very useful one-sided tracking sheet that lists relationships, report cards, extracurriculars and jobs throughout the campaign. This lets the DM eke every bit of narrative from the setting and will no doubt tie the player to their character. It will remind the DM that there is more to this campaign than a college with magic.
Hamon and the rest should be proud of this offering, and I hope to see more mini-campaigns and books like this in the future.